Fire destroys Newfoundland landmark

Archival Moment

February 24, 1915

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. E 19 – 31. Octagon Castle, Topsail

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. E 19 – 31. Octagon Castle, Topsail

A celebrated architectural feature on the Newfoundland landscape, known locally as the ‘Octagon Castle’,  was destoyed by fire , on February 24, 1915. The St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram reported:

“… the Octagon Hotel … was completely destroyed by fire the cause of which is attributed to a defective chimney, … “

Built by the eccentric “Professor” Charles Danielle in 1896 the “castle”   was built in octagon style (eight sides) and named the Octagon Castle. The castle was envisioned as a restaurant and resort. It was four stories in height, covered 3,750 square feet of land and enclosed 10, 880 square feet of floor space.

Octagon Castle soon became a popular resort for the pleasure-loving public of St John’s. Societies and clubs held their picnics there, and on holidays hundreds of excursionists flocked to the castle to enjoy the boating and other amenities.

It reached the height of its popularity in 1898 with the prestigious journal the New York World featuring the Castle in an article. The local St. John’s newspaper reported:

“When a journal like the New York World, with a circulation of over 700,000, thinks it’s (Octagon Castle) worthwhile to illustrate and publish the Professor’s enterprise, the latter must surely be a live man, and the Octagon, a most remarkable place…”

Known for his ‘big personality’ Danielle who was born in Baltimore, MD, died at his beloved Octagon Castle in May 1902. The man who laid claim to being a dancing teacher, costume maker, restaurateur, and resort owner was buried as he requested in a glass coffin in a complex and carefully-orchestrated ceremony.

Following his death the fortunes of the Castle diminished. Its success lay on the shoulders of the good Professor; his successor Mr. Poole did not have the same appeal.

Reporting on the fire The Evening Telegram reported:

“Mr. Poole the proprietor of the place visited the hotel which had been unoccupied since last fall and lighted a fire in the kitchen stove. He then went down to the ice house some 200 yards distant to inspect the winter’s cut of ice and upon his return noticed smoke issuing from the roof. He hurried to the scene but the house was filled with smoke and he was obliged to retreat, no water being at hand the flames spread rapidly and in less than an hour the building and most of its contents were consumed. All the bedding linen and other furnishings were destroyed as well as a piano that was in the ballroom the latter was insured for $250 but the other furnishings were not insured and the loss to Mr Poole is estimated at about $500 the building was owned by Mr. Fowlow of Trinity and was we understand insured.”

Archival Collection: The Rooms Provincial Archives is home to a small collection of photographs that show exterior and interior views of the Octagon Castle including a photograph of Professor Danielle’s coffin which was on display at Octagon Castle with “full instructions to be followed immediately after my death”.

Recommended Reading: Dictionary of Canadian Biography: